What’s Your Benchmark? Using the One Rep Max

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Recently I discussed how a gnawing feeling in your gut may represent the need for a little self growth. One thing that gnawed at me was that I didn’t measure my progress very methodically. I look at pictures, check out my training log, and pretty much know if I’m lifting more. A log is a great tool and I would be lost without mine, but I could’ve used a benchmark to track my progress.

It makes sense to also use a test – or number – to establish a starting point and measure progress from there. You can do this by finding your one-rep max (1RM). Some exercises and programs also call for lifting a percentage of your one-rep max. For example, a workout may involve doing squats for 8 reps with 80% of your 1RM. If your 1RM for squats is 100 pounds, you would do a set of 8 reps with 80 pounds.

This ensures a certain level of intensity and allows you to progress in a structured fashion.

I know – this sounds like something only bodybuilders or serious weight lifters do, and that’s one reason I hadn’t done it. But remember, that’s just a thought that needs to be squashed. The reality is that finding your one-rep max is simple and effective. It’s also an excellent benchmark for measuring progress, used by fitness professionals and  people of all abilities.

What is YOUR One-Rep Max?

Your one-rep max is the maximum amount of weight you can lift using maximum effort on a given exercise for one repetition. It’s a snapshot of your strength at a given time using a given exercise. You can recheck your 1RM periodically to see how much you’re progressing.

There are two ways you can find your 1RM. Stay with me here.

First, you can actually try to lift the heaviest you can handle for one rep using a specific compound exercise. Experienced lifters will do several warm up sets and eventually get to the point of only being able to lift for one repetition.

You don’t want to do this test by yourself; you need a spotter if you’re going to find your 1RM. After all, you’re not used to lifting that much, and for that matter, you’re not exactly sure what your threshold is. At any rate, some people think this is the most accurate way to get your benchmark. There are a lot of sources for going about finding your 1RM, including FitJerk.com, KohyHD, and Strength-training-woman.com.

The second way to find your 1RM is to skip the physical test and predict it instead using an online calculator. For most beginning to intermediate weight lifters, the calculator is a fine alternative. You do a specific exercise for a specified number of reps, then enter that information into the online calculator to get your 1RM. At Cathe.com, if you register and use the Workout Manager, there is a calculator for specific exercises, making it more accurate. A one-rep max needs to be based on an exercise that uses major muscle groups, such as the bench press, squat, or deadlift. Check out Bodybuilding.com for another calculator without having to register.

What to do with the Results

Whether you find your 1RM by performing the physical test or using a calculator, record it in your training log. Perform or calculate the 1RM test once a month for the same exercise. You can see whether you’re progressing at a pace you’re comfortable with and make adjustments as necessary. You can also use this number to lift a percentage of your 1RM, such as 80%.

Have fun finding your one-rep max! If you use it as a benchmark and retest regularly, you may just find you’re getting stronger faster.

Do you use the one-rep max? If so, how?

10 thoughts on “What’s Your Benchmark? Using the One Rep Max

  1. I’ve never heard of this. It kind of sounds frightening but then with my injuries in the past year it’s made me weary of pushing myself TOO much…it’s an interesting concept tho.


    • Well now you have my dear! With a spotter the 1RM should not be dangerous. With past injuries, though, you’d be better off predicting your 1RM as I describe. Personally, I only have a spotter once a week at best so I’ll be predicting mine as well.


  2. Oh wow, I’ve never done this before. I have no idea what my one rep max would be, but I’m pretty sure it’s a LOT lower now than it was when I was weight lifting in college, haha!


  3. Suzanne, Great post..

    Here’s another formula I’ve found to be very accurate for calculating your own 1 RM… Pick any exercise (bench / squat, etc.), warmup well. After warmup use a decent weight to perform ONE set til failure with the last rep ending with good technique / form and unassisted..

    Take the # of (unassisted) completed REPS divide by 30 + 1 x WEIGHT LIFTED = 1 RM

    Give it a shot and compare !


    • @Kenzie: I’m glad the pics helped!
      @Tom: Interesting! It sounds like a lot of math (lol) BUT a good way to calculate the 1RM w/o the risk. I’ll try it, thanks!


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